Rehiring of retired San Francisco employees results in double-dipping 

An attorney working part time for the Rent Board took home $78,153 in wages while also collecting a $3,994-per-month pension last fiscal year. Meanwhile, a lawyer in The City Attorney’s Office was paid $77,427 for up to 120 days of work while receiving a $96,588 pension. A part-time nurse earned $67,068 while collecting a $72,540 pension.

For years, The City has made use of this little-known practice of rehiring retired workers who collect government pension checks on a part-time basis to fill a broad spectrum of jobs: attorneys, museum guards, police officers, a dance instructor for Recreation and Park.

In all, The City paid 139 retiree city workers $4.7 million in wages for part-time work. Since fiscal year 2005-06, The City has paid 1,034 such workers $29.4 million, while most were also collecting monthly pension checks.

On a part-time basis, working as many as 120 days, 24 of the more than 100 rehired retirees took home in excess of $50,000 in pay, not including  pension checks. A total of 49 received paychecks in excess of $40,000.

There was a time when this double-dipping practice was prohibited. Once city workers were retired, the city government employment door was shut to them.

But in 1994, voters approved Proposition F, which changed the labor rules by allowing retired city employees to come back and work for The City for up to 120 days or 960 hours per year, while receiving pension checks. At the time, Prop. F was presented to voters as one of the “creative ways to reduce personnel costs.”

Whether Prop. F has saved The City money on personnel costs is unclear. That’s because no official analysis has been done by The City. The City Controller’s Office recently concluded that a double-dipping program for veteran cops known as the Deferred Retirement Option Program was not cost effective.

Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda said department heads say the use of Prop. F workers is effective, and she said no one should “see it as The City is getting ripped off, or The City is paying more than they should.”

When adopted in 1994, the measure had its opponents, including Arlo Hale Smith, who currently sits on the Democratic County Central Committee. Seventeen years later, Smith reaffirmed his stance. Smith said The City’s pension is supposed to be for someone’s retirement.

“Rehire them. And don’t pay them a pension,” Smith said.

The Prop. F worker who earned the most in wages last fiscal year was Rent Board attorney Timothy Lee, who retired in January 2009. Lee earned $78,153 in wages last fiscal year, and received a $3,994-per-month pension, or $47,928 a year. 

“I agree with the voters that it’s a win-win for The City and the employee,” Lee said in an email.

“Tim Lee, is an incredible bargain actually for us as he is one of the state’s foremost experts on rent control,” said Delene Wolf, executive director of the Rent Board. “We got to therefore to keep his expertise in-house and not have to hire and train a new employee.”

Like all Prop. F rehires, Lee does not receive benefits from his part-time job, nor does the part-time work add
to his retirement benefits.

Retired city workers coming back year after year

Voters in 1994 may have expected that individual Proposition F workers would fill in for a year or two. The City Controller’s analysis in the ballot pamphlet said Prop. F part-timers would only work “for a limited period of time.”

But records obtained by The San Francisco Examiner show many retired city employees — including engineers, nurses, transit supervisors, administrators, managers, parking hearing examiners and museum guards — have been brought back to work part-time for up to five consecutive years. Those workers continue to draw their pensions while collecting paychecks from The City.

Officials say there’s nothing wrong with the practice because Prop. F didn’t impose a time restriction for years of employment on a part-time basis. 

For instance, the Port has for years employed a building inspector who retired in 1998 for “as-needed services” such as permit reviews or filling in when regular staffers are on vacation, sick or taking furlough days. “Hiring a full-time staff person to be available for such a limited use would be a waste of money and create a second pension,” said Port spokeswoman Renee Dunn Martin.

The Department of Public Health, which used the most Prop. F workers last year, also employs a number of retirees for part-time nurse work. According to Liz Jacobi, the Department of Public Health’s human resource director, the department “restricts its hiring of retired employees to situations where a special skill set is needed, there is a delay in recruiting a qualified replacement for a vacancy, or where there is a general shortage in the labor market, which is often an issue with specialized nursing positions.”

The 1994 ballot measure also promised the part-time work would be for those with “special skills or knowledge.” While that appears to be the case for most of the jobs filled under Prop. F, there a few positions that seem to raise questions if they meet the criteria, such as food service workers, school crossing guards and custodians.

Even for these positions departments find value in using experienced workers, according to Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda. Custodians are “knowledgeable about the area. They would know the property. You can bypass training,” she said.

Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said the Prop. F school crossing guards are “local fixtures” with valuable knowledge of intersections, and have formed relationships with principals and parents. 

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